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MLB on Blackout Policy: “There’s still more work to be done” Print
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Written by Maury Brown   
Friday, 29 May 2009 08:17

BlackoutsThere was hope in August of last year, albeit thin, that Major League Baseball was finally ready to make good on their efforts to address the television territories in the league that was creating so much consumer outrage when coupled with MLB’s blackout policy.

“I see no reason why there ought to be so many clubs able to black out in those territories,” DuPuy said at the time. “That’s my intention. That’s my goal. I didn’t get any pushback. The whole thing is about making the game more popular and available.”

And, as recently as the Winter Meetings in December, DuPuy voiced that the restructuring of the television territories was near at hand.

“You can tell the fans in Las Vegas that the commissioner is committed to getting as many games cleared as possible,” DuPuy said to the Review-Journal

But, my hope has faded, and at this stage, if my hope is fading, then consumers, it’s time to pack it in. For more than two years, MLB’s owners, along with Commissioner Selig, have pushed the matter off, tabling the topic in owners meetings after owners meetings.

Optimism for a solution was not given a nudge in the right direction after speaking to Brian Eckhouse of the Las Vegas Sun yesterday and reading his column today (see Major League Baseball: As not seen on TV)

As quoted in Eckhouse’s column, the situation in Las Vegas is the most egregious – seeing the Dodgers, Angels, Giants, Athletics, Padres, and Diamondbacks all claiming that Las Vegas is within their “local” television territory, and therefore, MLB Extra Innings and MLB.TV consumer, subject to blackouts.

I mentioned to Eckhouse that this matter could get worse should MLB Advanced Media ever decide to move forward with streaming games to smartphones through applications such as At Bat, which is now available for Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch products. MLBAM has been granted a patent for geolocation that could point to MLBAM looking to such possibilities in the future.

As I said, when reading Eckhouse’s column today, my hope for a solution did not move in the right direction. From his column:

Brown explained that team owners, nervous over the recession, “are scratching for every penny that they can get” — especially from advertisers. Owners fret that reducing the size of their television territories (even markets they don’t televise in) could hurt their draw to advertisers.

“It’s a very complicated issue,” said MLB spokesman Pat Courtney. “There’s still more work to be done” on a revised TV territory policy.

It was Pat Courtney’s comments that should be focused on here.

No one should deny that the issue of the television territories is complicated. But, so was the issue of a drug testing policy in baseball, and look where we are today.

But then, the drug testing policy wasn’t done freely by baseball, it was done so by pressure from Congress and the public. Maybe that’s the component that is missing from the equation. I imagine that if Congress and/or the FCC got involved, that the territories issue in baseball would be addressed in short order.

I just keep coming back to, “there’s still more work to be done.”

So much for wanting to make the game “more popular and available.”  

And baseball wonders why their television ratings continue to decline. When you make your product unavailable, don’t be surprised if the word from sports fans around the country continues to be, “Pass me the clicker, there’s the NBA and NHL playoffs to watch.”

Maury BrownMaury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.

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